The Towers Tomorrow

A City of Spires Searches for Its Next Skyline

Pelli says any undertaking will need ample input from the citizenry. He has faith that from a broader base, braver ideas will come. "Life eventually reaffirms itself," he says.

Not surprisingly, it seems most architects share Pelli's desire to build something grand in place of the World Trade Center. It's an irresistible canvas. They recognize that if the Twin Towers aren't to be reproduced, whatever succeeds them had better make an appropriate statement.

"This is an opportunity to build in a very different way," says renowned architect William Pedersen, who imagines a design that would make people consider the link between terrorism and oil. Pedersen sees towers run through with wind turbines and sheathed in solar collectors. "We could move toward self-sustaining buildings," he says. Such buildings would also draw attention to the fact that New York is America's most energy-efficient city, in large part because tenants in big buildings share more resources.

Pedersen also sees a real commercial need for a tower somewhere in New York City—the terrorist attack knocked out our highest transmission antenna. That fits well with Pelli's vision of a "very tall, very thin needle in Lower Manhattan."

And though Pelli is thinking of an actual office building, other cities seeking to manifest their hopes and virility have done well with largely unoccupied towers. The Eiffel Tower and Seattle Space Needle are instantly recognizable, and Toronto gained presence from its CN Tower, the tallest freestanding structure in the world. There can be no doubt that a slender needle reaching higher than any other would do much to restore New York's sense of self.

"New York is to the nation what the white church spire is to the village—the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying the way is up!" wrote E.B. White in 1949. But on September 11, the plume was black, and the white towers fell.

Clearing away the dust isn't the same as being ready to build. Keeping the site green for awhile as a placeholder for dreams, not simply a repository for anguished memories, might satisfy both grief and hope. Instead of leaving a tombstone on the plot, we can just leave a cornerstone, an invitation for a bolder generation to build nothing less than the best.

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